This page was originally written to highlight my favorite supermodel of the Nineties, Karen Mulder. Later it was updated to include some other models and actresses who caught my attention. Since the last update, in 2005, however, I have realized something rather odd. It isn't just that the phenomenon of the supermodels has pretty much disappeared since the turn of the century. Current information about the fashion industry itself seems to have largely disappeared from the sources that used to feature it.
In the Nineties the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show Fashion File ran weekly on the E! Network. This was hosted by Tim Blanks and gave informative views of recent fashion shows, with commentary by Blanks, along with other relevant features. Fashion File was joined by some other fashion news shows, like Video Fashion Weekly. E! also at times had something called Fashion Trance, which was largely just raw footage of fashion shows. When I mentioned something about these shows in class, a student told me that there was actually a Fashion Network. This was not on my cable system at home, but I ended up finding it in my hotel when I was in London in 2006. It had fashion shows, fashion feature stories, and even some of what I could only describe as arty soft-porn items -- very European.
Then E! seemed to begin losing interest in these shows. They began to be shown at odd times and were not repeated like most other weekly shows on E!, or on cable in general. When E! spun off the Style Network, I hoped that this indicated a greater commitment to fashion coverage. However, the decline that had been visible on E! simply continued on Style. It began to be difficult to find when Fashion File was scheduled even on the E! or Style websites. Tim Blanks left Fashion File in 2006, and the show disappeared altogether for a year. It returned with a new host, apparently after a high profile search by the CBC, but was not of the same quality. I think that E! only carried it for one season; and eventually the CBC cancelled it altogether in 2009. Meanwhile, all the other fashion shows had disappeared from E! and from Style, as both networks shifted to voyeuristic "reality" shows. In London again in 2010, even at the same hotel, I could no longer find the Fashion Network.
Has public interest in fashion actually declined in the last ten years? I can only think so. Had the supermodels helped generate the interest in fashion in the Nineties, or was it the other way around? I don't know. Did the decline in interest in fashion drag the supermodels down also? After all, there are still the occasional supermodels in the news. Naomi Campbell, Gisele Bündchen, and Kate Moss have turned up in celebrity and entertainment stories occasionally, but usually only because scandal or legal problems, not as part of fashion coverage. News coverage of fashion shows otherwise has been brief and perfunctory, without the sort of professional commentary that Tim Blanks provided.
Camille Paglia had said that, as art in general has lost interest in beauty (and there is some extraordinary ugly art out there, often done at public expense), contradicting the maxim of Oscar Wilde that art is entirely about beauty, an actual interest in beauty had moved over to fashion. This certainly seemed true in the Nineties. Now, perhaps in the post-9/11 world of anaesthetic Islamic fundamentalism, even fashion, and its beauties, has lost the interest of the public -- although scandal thrives.
I am sorry to see it go. It certainly survives in certain circles -- the "fashionistas" -- but the public face of fashion has returned to the more cryptic and esoteric form it had before the Eighties. As then, the occasional model seems to break through into public consciousness, as Twiggy (Lesley Hornby, a 49'er like myself) did in the Sixties; but this is no longer to become a public icon, as was Twiggy at the time. Again, these breakthroughs rarely occur simply because of beauty. Even Twiggy, like the later Kate Moss, became best known for being thin. Although the Dutchess of Windsor had famously said that one could not be too rich or too thin, by the time of Kate Moss, a furor arose over thin models as a public health threat, promoting anorexia among young girls. That Victoria's Secret models, let alone Playboy models, were not all that thin, while the purpose of haute coutre models is to be clothes hangers (as in "wire hanger") and to look elegant at a distance on the runway, was lost in the general political moralism of feminism. Meanwhile, radical feminism itself, although a continuing threat to freedom in the law, has faded significantly as a political presence.
Thus my recognition of Karen Mulder becomes a more melancholy retrospective.
Karen Mulder was one of the original supermodels of the Nineties. She may not actually have been the most beautiful of them -- it's close; Claudia Schiffer was hard to beat, and there were others of comparable quality -- but there was a sweetness, playfulness, delicacy, and vulnerability to Karen that was especially attractive and appealing. While she could be seen on the fashion runway with Veronica Lake hair and cold blond high elegance, her Victoria's Secret work tended to bring out the softer side. Sometimes fashion reporters followed her shopping or going about other daily activities, and she always seemed happy, friendly, and personable.
Not that I find blonds the most appealing or beautiful women. I've certainly never married one; and I can't see what is so great about Madonna, or even Marilyn Monroe. I don't think Karen is the sexiest woman, just especially appealing in a particular way, both for beauty and personality.
Karen retired from modeling in 1999 but since then had actually been hospitalized for some kind of mental breakdown. I am sorry to hear it. She was evidently too delicate and vulnerable for her own good. In 2005, she had apparently recovered, but did suffer from depression and some other problems. Hopefully she is over it.
This is an especially sad aspect to the passing of the brief day of the supermodels. The likes of Karen, Claudia Schiffer, and Naomi Campbell in their heyday seemed to attract a great deal of surprising and inappropriate hostility. They could be dismissed as nothing more than pretty faces and elegant bodies, but some of the people who seemed the most derisive and contemptuous about this nevertheless were still in businesses, in fashion or Hollywood, built entirely on appearances. The designers, at least, can be understood. They didn't want the fame of their models to overpower and detract from the clothes -- and from the designers. I now simply begin to wonder if the designers sabbatoged the profile of the whole industry with antipathy towards the supermodels.
In the subsequent generation, one of the models the closest to full supermodel status was Gisele Bündchen. In one show a few years ago she was scheduled to model three outfits but then at the last minute was cut down to one. The designer evidently wanted to reduce her profile in the show. She walked. This clash of egos is not surprising; but when commentators who are not designers nevertheless treated the supermodels as though how dare they get so uppity and make such a big deal of themselves, there must be something going on that misses me.
The short lived Fashion Cafe (at West 51st Street and Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan) was not an embarrassing manifestation of models getting above their station. It was just what everyone else with a bit of fame tries to do: parlay the fame into a business. Unlike some of the famous, no one would ever make the mistake that the supermodels were famous just for being famous. They become famous for awesome beauty. If this was good enough for Helen of Troy, there is no reason why it should not be good enough for Kate Moss. Now, only Naomi Campbell seems to maintain a conspicuous position, and not necessarily for the best, since she has acquired a nasty reputation for her personal behavior. Although stories like his are common for many media celebrities, Campbell's problem have also landed her in lawcourts, with some nasty behaviors confessed or proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise, some models who thrived more discretely in the day of the supermodel, continue to work steadily as before, without the media footprint.
|Having featured the blond Karen Mulder above, the following section considers some non-blond actresses and model who caught my attention over the years. This has not been updated very recently, so I must be getting behind the times. I can't decide if I like Katy Perry's looks or not -- but she has definitely contributed to the profile of fashion in her own right.
Alicia appeared in The Sopranos on HBO, and so she got her picture in the November 2002 Maxim magazine, at right, with other "Sopranos' Girls." This pose, hair color and all, looks rather like "The White Slave," at left, painted in 1888 by Jean- Jules- Antoine Lecomte de Noy. In 2005, Alicia appeared in the very fine The Upside of Anger with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner (his best movie in years).
It is hard to speak of beautiful women without at least mentioning Yamila Diaz [at right], Yasmeen Ghauri, and Kate Moss [below]. With talk and reality shows, Tyra Banks transformed her career into a television success; but then her personality was not well received by all, and she suffered some embarrassment in the tabloids when, getting older, she gained some unattractive weight.
Laetitia is from Corsica, like Napoleon Bonaparte. Indeed, "Laetitia" was the name of Napoleon's mother. She also seems to have a practical head on her, since after becoming Marianne, she immediately moved to Britain to avoid French taxes. The French government should take this to heart, though it probably won't.
For a while Laetitia was just all over Victoria's Secret catalogues. Now she seems to have moved on. I haven't noticed her as much. Victoria's Secret (like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition) seems to have been friendlier to supermodels than some other venues. It has every reason to use the glamour and recognition of the models in order to present and sell the underwear. For much the same reason it is also going to have less use for the more anorexic models. If things are going to be bouncing and jiggling in the Victoria's Secret fashion show (there were complaints to the FCC), the girls need to have enough fat to convincingly bounce and jiggle. (After Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," Victoria's Secret cancelled their 2004 show -- a sad day for America -- but it has returned since then.)
Recently come to public attention is a beauty of a different sort, Jules Asner, who long did reporting and interviews for the E! Entertainment cable network. Jules has done modeling and is certainly good looking, but her appeal is definitely more of the "girl next door" variety, and it tends to grow on one rather than overwhelm with the first strike. Perhaps it is also because I am getting older. Jules is in her 30's.
Some beautiful young women do not age well. Other women, good looking or not when young, grow into their looks and can even be better looking older. Meryl Streep (a 49'er like myself) at 35 was much better looking than she was in her twenties. Carol Alt continues as good looking as fifteen years ago, but almost looks like a different person. While the cliché is that older men look "distinguished" or better when older and mature, while women always look better younger, this is not always the case. Nor is it just me. The photo is from Maxim magazine of November 2001, where Jules is featured on the cover -- a cover usually graced with women ten years younger. Jules has been around a bit. In fact, "Asner" comes from her ex-husband, a son of actor (and embarrassing Leftist) Ed Asner. Well, yes, it does help that Jules is in very good shape. Her sitting in short skirts on E!, showing off her legs, was one thing that got my attention. Jules then had her own interview show and proven herself to be rather more than just a pretty face (or nice legs) -- but I have not seen her on television for a few years now.
"Getting older! Give me a break!" you say. Jules Asner is hardly over the hill. Well, maybe Nigella Lawson is closer. I have not found her birthday. At the time of her celebrity, the bios said she was in her "40's." She is certaintly a mother and long married. And she is definitely no Twiggy. Indeed, one of the charming things about her popular British cooking show, Nigella Bites, was not only that she was always tasting what she waiscooking, but the end of the show, as the credits roll, often showed her raiding the refrigerator late at night. Nor am I alone in thinking she is attractive. Nigella was voted one of the best looking women on British television.
Well, not quite the end here, but definitely still youth. Selma Blair is a lovely young actress, noteworthy in Legally Blonde  and especially, sharing the lead, in Hell Boy  and its sequel. As beautiful as she is, she is not the sort of girl, shall we say, whose door Hugh Hefner will be beating down. It is thus endearing, if that is the right word, to see Selma in John Waters' strange movie A Dirty Shame. The movie was about a small suburban war between sex addicts (a condition, I am surprised to learn, always brought on by a blow to the head) and "neuters," a contemporary Legion of Decency who want to keep sex in some small, carefully restricted, and invisible place. In other words it is the war between John Waters and the post-Janet's-breast morality police of the government (principally the Republicans but, one must note, not so far from the Democrats who ruled an event at the Playboy Mansion off limits to delegates at their 2000 National Convention in Los Angeles -- in other words, we should remember that the anti-porn crusaders are both the religous right and the anhedonic feminist left). Enter Selma, now a blonde herself (though many may not even notice her hair), as Ursula Udders, an exotic dancer with unnaturally, even preternaturally, enlarged breasts -- though women not much unlike this turn up on Howard Stern. In a memorable scene, Ursula bares her chest and sports with her slobbering and worshipful fans. The skin and nipples don't look quite real, but it, or they, are otherwise impressive prostheses. Their gravity defying quality makes one wonder if there has been some wire-removal or digital enhancement. Nevertheless, the effect is remarkable, and Selma seems to be having a great deal of fun with the part. The publicity posters exaggerate the breasts even more, but no one could claim, after seeing what is on the screen, that some kind of bait and switch is involved. For Selma Blair, this part is about as far as one could get from someone who was once called, in Legally Blonde, a "frigid bitch." Selma deserves some kind of award for being so daring, joyful, and courageous -- not to mention doing her own, as it were, stunts.
At right is one of the images from Carlos Cartagena. This used to be available as decals from "Slap-On Art"; but their website no longer seems to exist.
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